The Great British Country Fete, Bush Theatre, London

Hardly worth setting your stall out for
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The Independent Culture

It's not often that you're asked to guess the weight of a cake on your way into the Bush Theatre. But then it's seldom that this cutting-edge urban venue has mounted anything as genially daft as The Great British Country Fete. With songs by Michael Bruce and a script by stand-up comic Russell Kane, the piece is a mischievously doubled-edged paean to bucolic life and it was the theatre's contribution to this year's Latitude Festival. It's likeable enough, though the end-of-term-romp atmosphere is not, I suspect, best experienced back at the HQ in Goldhawk Road.

We're to suppose that Tesco is bent on turning the Suffolk village of Upham into a giant supermarket. To protest against their takeover plans (which include an £11.5m buyout of his dairy farm), Farmer Joe organises a fete designed to showcase what is worth preserving in the rural world. The sizeable snag is that the specimens on offer would cause an instant stampede to the metropolis. There's the bent old crone whose frothing racism is betrayed in her "Mein Lieber Herr"-style hymn to the purity of home-made jam. There are the patronising Sloanes who serenely imagine that it's possible to milk a billy goat, thus giving their yoghurt an unwonted secret ingredient. There's the female vicar who can't wait to get her mitts on muddy adolescents, etc. No wonder Farmer Joe's gay son pines for escape to Brighton.

I laughed out loud once at the xenophobic Bulgarian migrant workers and the outrageously non-PC folk song in which they struggle to identify what is special about their native country – "There's a shop and a stone/ And a sheep on its own/ In old Bulgaria". "This isn't real Bulgarian folk song," complains one of their disgruntled bunch. "Well, what is?" is the rejoinder. For the bulk of the proceedings, this 70-minute show levels a similar scepticism at English pastoral traditions. But then, in a sickly, half-cynical switch to sentiment, a simple-minded youth's devotion to his stuffed ferret convinces Farmer Joe that minorities (rustic cranks, unloved rodents, gays et al) have a duty to unite against the forces of globalising conformity.

The versatile, multitasking cast of three (Katie Brayben, Graham Lappin, and especially Gabriel Vick) generate bags of goodwill. It's not their fault that the material tends to rely on such indulgence or that rural individuality winds up celebrating itself to a disco beat in a Brighton gay club, thus adding to the show's air of faintly compulsory jollity.



To 14 August (020-8743 5050)

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